Alexander Skarsgård Says He Took on ‘Melancholia’ Without Reading Lars von Trier’s Script

Fellow Scandinavian and von Trier super fan Skarsgård said "100 percent" to whatever the Dane had on offer — which ultimately was his 2011 masterpiece.
MELANCHOLIA, from left: Alexander Skarsgard, Kirsten Dunst, 2011, Ph: Christian Geisnaes,  © Magnolia Films/courtesy Everett Collection
©Magnolia Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

When Alexander Skarsgård enjoys collaborating with a fellow artist, he’ll sure stay loyal to them.

After winning an Emmy for playing Nicole Kidman’s emotionally and physically abusive husband in “Big Little Lies,” Skarsgård suggested Kidman play his mother in Robert Eggers’ Viking epic “The Northman,” now in theaters. And Skarsgård is even looking to explore a “brother-sister road trip comedy” with his Oscar-winning friend Kidman in pursuit of a “lighter” project together.

Skarsgård’s faith in filmmakers has been a cornerstone of his decades-spanning career, from going “full method” as a gasoline-swigging model in Ben Stiller’s 2001 comedy “Zoolander” to blindly signing on for Lars von Trier’s critically acclaimed “Melancholia” a decade later.

“I actually worked with Lars for literally three seconds on the eve of the millennium,” Skarsgård told Entertainment Weekly while reflecting on his career-making roles. “He was shooting a crazy project in Copenhagen live over New Year’s Eve. I had a tiny little part, it was literally a couple of seconds.”

Skarsgård continued, “But when he called about [‘Melancholia’], I said yes before reading the script or asking what the role was because I was such a fan and so excited to be on set with him that I just jumped and said ‘100 percent whatever, whatever it is.'”

Skarsgård played Kirsten Dunst’s brooding groom in the darkly existential, world-ending drama; his real-life father and frequent von Trier collaborator Stellan Skarsgård portrayed his father in the film that conjures a dour but oddly joyous vision of the end of the world for the rich, bored, and miserable.

“Melancholia” earned Dunst the Best Actress Award at 2011 Cannes, but jury member Olivier Assayas revealed to Liberation (via The Film Stage) in 2020 that the film was favored to win the Palme d’Or prior to writer-director von Trier’s now-infamous press conference statements citing that he “understood” Hitler and could sympathize with the Nazi dictator.

“The other scandal was the press conference where Lars von Trier made an anti-Semitic joke,” Assayas said. “Everyone got on their high horse. My position was to say that I was not engaged as a morality judge, and that ‘Melancholia’ was magnificent. There were consequences on the record, as he was a serious contender for the [Palme d’Or]. At first, there were only two of us, Jude Law and I, who thought that Terrence Malick’s ‘The Tree of Life’ could also claim the highest prize. The reason other members joined our cause was because they had lost their favorite.”

Von Trier was declared “persona non grata, with effect immediately” following his 2011 Cannes appearance. The auteur eventually returned in 2019 with “The House That Jack Built,” but the film did not play in competition.

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